March 31, 2008 (Calitzdorp, SA) – Canadian MTB cycling legend and Pedal columnist, Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain), is competing at the 9-day 2008 Absa Cape Epic with her Marathon World Cup winner team mate Pia Sundstedt (Fin) and will be sending us daily reports as conditions allow for an inside look at this amazing race with 1,200 riders from 41 countries.
Today’s stage was the “Queen Stage” of the 2008 Absa Cape Epic. For those who don’t know the “Queen Stage” refers to the hardest day of a stage race. In fact the stage was promoted by the organizers as the toughest ever for any Cape Epic. At 5 am the alarm went off but I was already awake. The air was so fresh and cool outside, and I knew I’d better enjoy the coolness of the day for today would likely also be the hottest day as we had much of the stage to ride in the Klein Karoo desert.
The stage started with a rather hectic run out on a twisty gravel road but soon we hit the first long climb of the day up the shallow Motague pass – 10km at 6% on a pretty smooth gravel road. Pia and I had a good start and we settled in with a group for the climb. The whole way up the ascent in the morning light was a beautiful sight and the air was a very comfortable temperature. With a few tough efforts here and there we managed to stay with our boys to the top. This was pretty useful as we had a decent group to ride with for more or less the next 40km through the rolling gravel roads and paths of a few large osterich farms.
After the second feed zone the terrain really reminded me of riding in Arizona. For me this was the most fun part of the day – light downhills with fun single track through the small brush. Our average speed seemed pretty good and with 50km to go we were optimistic for a fast finish. Just one big climb to go!
The start of this last climb was steep and loose, at times so much so that pushing was the only option. Already tired from 90kms and drained from the heat this climb was a killer. Steep and loose, mostly in the granny gear for 10km. I was enjoying the climb as I like this sort of stuff but the heat was getting to me and I could feel the start of some cramps.
Eventually we got to the top and as I’d kind of imagined on the way up the way down was just as steep and loose – one either loved it or hated it. I was a tad terrified myself as my hands have not felt this fatigued or sore for a long time. We’d finished the descent with a small group but it seemed everyone but us had lost a partner, so we had to time trial the final 15km ourselves. After 140km in rough desert terrain and 40 degrees heat, I must say the sight of the finish arch was a moment of true relief.
We won again today and extended our lead nicely in the overall. Normally the best on the “Queen Stage” prove to be the strongest team in the race, so I hope that’s true for us. But there are still six stages to go and after today I’m not going to underestimate even one km of the remaining stages. Today was the continuation of a amazing change of terrain and plant life as we progress down the cape. Tomorrow our mechanic says well be in lush dairy lands and grassy meadows. Hard to imagine from tonight’s desert camp. Sounds nice, and a high of only 30 tomorrow also sounds pretty good as well.